Evangelizing the Christianized Culture: What is repentance and how is it evidenced?
Repentance is a willful turning of the heart and the mind to God in light of specific truths. When we discuss repentance, we must consider context as we consider its nature. Repentance may or may not involve sin. God’s repentance obviously is not a turning from sin. Ironically, twenty one out of the twenty five AV examples of “repent” or its cognate in the Old Testament are referring to God. Repentance for an unbeliever and a believer is different, depending on context, though this repentance will always result in a changed direction, since it is impossible from one’s heart, thinking, and will to change without a significant change of direction. Consider these Old Testament text that reveal the nature of repentance. In each passage, notice how various English translations express metonoeo the Greek word for repent, from the LXX. Proverbs 20:25 “It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, and afterward to reconsider his vows.” “Reconsider” is the English translation of metanoeo. Proverbs 24:32 “When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction.” “Considered it well” is the English translation of metanoeo. 1 Samuel 15:29 NAS “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” “Change His mind” is the English translation of metanoeo. And Amos 7:3 NAS “The LORD changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the LORD.” “The LORD changed his mind about this” is the English translation of metanoeo. The remaining Old Testament text referring to repentance, reveal the same. Repentance is a willful turning of the heart and mind in light of specific truths. It involves deliberation in the heart through processing information. Ultimately one repents, when he turns from one contextually understood view to another. Response to the gospel is a unique context, with the following truths at stake. How does one view himself, his sin, his righteousness, the person of Christ, and the work of Christ.
Unconverted men generally view themselves as good, their sins as occasional shortcomings, their righteousness as pleasing to God, Christ as simply a man, and his work as a martyr’s death. For every sinner, the sticking point may be different. For the Muslim, it is impossible to embrace Christ’s deity. For the Moralist, it is impossible to embrace his self-righteous attempts to merit eternal life us unacceptable, arrogant means of rebellion against God’s gracious salvation through Christ alone. To the Hedonist, there is no desire to embrace the light; it exposes him as a miserable rebel reveling in lawless rebellion. To the atheist, it is impossible to embrace a risen Savior and the grotesque figure of Christ on a cross. Apart from the grace of God, no man can turn from these various rebellions, but praise God for His grace in the gospel. Saving repentance is a willful turning of the heart and mind to God in light of the specific truths of the gospel in order to depend upon the person, work, and righteousness of Christ alone. Repentance means you cannot add Christ to what you already believe. You must see yourself as spiritually bankrupt, having no acceptable righteousness before God, condemned and under God’s wrath, without hope apart from the Jesus of the Bible, the Lord God. You must embrace the redemptive work of God in its entirety, including the horrors of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection. There is no true faith, without true repentance. So here are a few questions that help us to discern if there has been a genuine repentance toward God:
- Have they sensed the seriousness and implications of their rebellion against a holy God?
- Do they view their current situation as grave?
- Do they view their current belief system as wrong?
- Do they embrace a Biblical Jesus?
- Do they embrace a resurrected Jesus?
- Do they recognize this is the only way?
- Do they desire deliverance from their sin?
One final word of caution, the way we read people is not infallible. The longer we work with people, the more we will misjudge. Some people seem to understand and actually do not. Others appear mildly moved by the truth, yet time reveals the miracle of a radically changed life by the power of the gospel in conversion. Let us not answer the matter in our minds before we see the whole picture. May God grant us grace as we labor to clearly present the precious gospel of Christ!